Tuesday, May 4, 2010

My Disabled Cruise Story - Chapter 3 - Jamaica Enchants Us

I don't know how to best describe Ocho Rios, Jamaica, our second port of call. Clearly, Jamaica is not a manufactured little town like Labadee, Haiti is. It’s authentic, yet enchanted (or should I say bewitched?). I took this video from our stateroom balcony as we approached the island.

I had connected with a Jamaican taxi driver on the internet a couple of weeks earlier. He seemed legitimate. For $150 he would drive Kim and I around the island in his wheelchair accessible van for about four hours. We were to meet him at 9:45 at the cruise ship dock. We showed up a little early, about 9:15. There was a no-nonsense lady who appeared to be in charge of the taxis. She asked me if I wanted one. “No,” I said, and I gave her the name of my contact. She'd never heard of him. That was when things began to get weird.

There was a gentleman taxi driver nearby who had a wheelchair accessible van. The lady in charge motioned for him. I guess we were an obvious match. He came over and asked me if I needed a wheelchair taxi. I said, “No thanks. I’ve already made arrangements with someone else.” I'd seen a picture of my contact, and he was about 30 years younger than this guy.

He cleverly asked me, "What’s the name of the guy you are waiting for?"

I told him.

"Oh, I work with him. I spoke with him last night and he told me to pick you up today. Didn't he tell you?"

"Oh, no, he didn't tell me," I said, becoming confused (or bewitched).

"And the deal was?" he asked.

"150 dollars for four hours," I responded automatically.

Things were happening so fast. Little did I know that I should have answered $100, or maybe even $75, because I later realized that this guy was not connected with my internet guy at all.

"Right,” he said while accepting my greenbacks. “Follow me.”

We obeyed.

The vehicle was in decent shape. However, I noticed that there was another couple already seated in the large van. As the driver was opening up the rear door and setting up a ramp for me to get in I whispered to the other couple, "How much is he charging you?"

"I don't know for sure. About $100," they responded. Apparently, they were no better prepared for this situation than we were.

I said, "You shouldn't pay him anything. I was supposed to have this van to myself for $150. We can split the cost.”

But it all happened so fast. This driver was very good at what he did- negotiating or casting spells, I’m not sure which. He sucked $150 out of the other couple, and then we were on our way.

Remember in Chapter 1 of this cruise story, I indicated that a wedding party had boarded the ship just before the cripples had. Guess what? The couple in the van with us was the newlyweds -- Pablo and Melissa. They're very nice people, and we spent a lot of time with them on the cruise after surviving Jamaica with them.

The driver quickly assumed the classic Jamaican tour guide persona and put us at ease (ya mon). We all agreed that we didn’t want him to take us to all the normal tourist spots. We wanted him to show us the real Jamaica. We were asking to go “off the grid.” What were we thinking?

In Jamaica they drive on the left side of the road, and in my humble opinion they drive like maniacs. But this guy was an old hand, and didn't kill us. We met all sorts of strange Jamaican characters that day, all of whom knew our driver by name.

IMG_1531 strange Jamaican character

 IMG_1521 Ready Freddy

IMG_1545 local herb garden

IMG_1552 our ship from a vista above Ocho Rios

We stopped and got out of the van at a couple of locations- to look at the scenery or to shop. At most of these locations, if I had not been in my iBOT wheelchair with four-wheel drive mode, it would've been very difficult for me to get around. So I rate the island of Jamaica fairly low in terms of wheelchair accessibility. But we didn't get off the ship and wander around that part of town, so to be fair I can't speak specifically to the accessibility of the downtown area in Ocho Rios.

Naturally, the Jamaicans were amazed by my wheelchair, especially in balance mode. At one point Kim was helping me up a high sidewalk curb by using the stair climbing mode. A vendor came up to me and reached out to help. That could really have screwed up the operation, so I abruptly put him off, and he was a bit offended. But when he saw how well the iBOT managed that curb, he nodded and smiled.

The vendors in Jamaica are aggressive. They swarm all over you and behave in what we Americans consider a bold and brash manner. They don't make physical contact, so you don’t feel unsafe in that way, but it's not a pleasant experience. After a time you either tune them out or their routine begins to eat away at you and ruin your mood. You don't leisurely look over their wares and ask them questions. The vendors beg and plead and cajole you, including the drug dealers.

Eventually we were dropped off at a small beach with a little restaurant nearby. We had authentic Jamaican jerk chicken and the local Red Stripe beer for a reasonable price, and wandered around the beach for a while. But it was very hot, and after about three hours of braving this exotic island, even though we considered ourselves the adventurous sort, all four of us were ready to return to the familiarity of our cruise ship. We summoned the taxi driver, and he asked where we wanted to go next. He seemed disappointed, even though he had already been paid, when we said that we were done. I may have played the disability card. I can’t remember for sure.

IMG_1567 Pablo and Melissa

IMG_1569 near the beach

IMG_1572 Ocho Rios from the top deck of our ship

Such an esoteric culture…such a mysterious island. I suspect that if I ever visit there again, I'll stay “on the grid.” Jamaica would be a less scary place if experienced from the sterile, canned tours. But in retrospect, I’m glad we saw Jamaica the way we did. I’ll never forget that day.

To be continued…click here


  1. Mitch,
    So I've been thinking... Kim is a guidance counselor. My wife, Cindy is an eighth grade science teacher. Maybe the next time (soon) that you go on a cruise, we can go together. If one guy in an iBOT can garner so much attention, just imagine how much two guys in balance mode will. Who knows, maybe we could even dance together.


  2. Charlie,

    This is so wrong on so many fronts. First, I want all the attention- I don't want to share it. Second, I don't dance with dudes. In fact, not being able to dance is one of the silver linings of being disabled.

  3. My husband and I took a private taxi and climbed Dunn River Falls on our own (instead of a $$ tour) when we went in '99.

    I was able bodied then but I can tell you that the "grid" of Ocho Rios was neither accessible or friendly. I had never been treated with such disgust from the local artisans/shop keepers.

    Wandering to find a little jerk chicken hut with peas and a Red Stripe was scary in hindsight. Too bad. Mind you, the water and the island itself is gorgeous. I have a few friends that have stayed in all-inclusive resorts in Montego Bay and all have had a fabulous time.